ITHACA, N.Y. — Concerns over mining under Cayuga Lake were brought to the steps of Tompkins County Courthouse on Friday. A crowd of nearly 50 people gathered outside before heading into court to hear discussion about a petition filed by local municipalities, homeowners and activists against Cargill and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The petitioners in this case include the City and Town of Ithaca, the Town of Ulysses, the Village of Union Springs, Cayuga Lake Environmental Action Now (CLEAN) and several other activists. They allege the DEC violated the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act by issuing a modified mining permit to Cargill, which allows it to construct a new vertical shaft.
The petitioners claim the DEC violated the act by not requiring an Environmental Impact Statement before issuing the modified mining permit.
An Article 78 petition was filed in Tompkins County Court in December. Article 78 is a proceeding typically used to challenge actions or appeal decisions made by administrative agencies and other government bodies in New York State.
What was discussed Friday in court before Judge John Rowley was a technicality in how the petition was delivered. It was delivered late and by overnight mail instead of in person. Arguments on the merit of the petition will be discussed at another appearance June 20.
Before the proceeding Friday, members of CLEAN voiced concerns about the environmental impact of mining under Cayuga Lake. Speakers asked for transparency from the DEC and Cargill on studies conducted.
Cargill has faced continued opposition to a new mine shaft. The company was approved for a $640,000 tax abatement by Tompkins County in October 2016 to help fund a new $32 million mine shaft. Without the new shaft, Cargill has said that operations in the mine in Lansing would be discontinued in a few years.
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-125th) has also been involved, calling on the state to impose a moratorium on all new permits for mining under Cayuga Lake, saying mining techniques used put the mine at risk for catastrophic collapse.
In response to concerns over safety, Cargill has said that the DEC performs inspections every year, as well as other independent inspections.
Speakers outside the courthouse talked about environmental concerns, and said they want to make sure Cargill and the DEC are doing everything they can to ensure constructing a new shaft and mining are safe.
Brian Eden, a member of the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council, said critical documents to assess the risk associated with the construction of the new mine shaft at Cargill have been withheld from the public, specifically a 2016 seismic study of the lake and area. When CLEAN has sent a freedom of information request for the documents, Eden said they have been told there are no records responsive to their request.
From this court proceeding and petition, Eden said they want an environmental impact statement.
“It’s a very complex project,” Eden said. “We get environmental impact statements for things that are much less threatening than this. … We want even-handed treatment of the SEQR process, environmental review should apply equally. You know if a local homeowner has to do this, a large corporation should also have to do it.”
Featured image: John Dennis, president of Cayuga Lake Environmental Action Now (CLEAN) speaks to a crowd gathered outside the Tompkins County Courthouse on May 11. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)